Fifty years ago, Ira Magaziner and a well-organized coalition of students changed the nature of education at Brown University. Their strategy: interpersonal organization to generate mass participation. Thanks to their efforts, the University now boasts an Open Curriculum and lacks distribution requirements. Today, Brown students organize primarily through social media and gather in lesser numbers. Considering the contexts of student activism in the 60s and today reveals that differences in participation result not from disorganization created by social media but from fundamental changes in the goals of student movements.

Magaziner and his peers shared privileges that both narrowed their focus and facilitated their organization. At that time, nearly all Brown students came from the same context. They were white and upper middle class. They had read the same books for their high school AP courses. They had even grown up listening to the same music. “To [university presidents] [Henry Merritt] Wriston and [Barnaby] Keeney, diversity … meant geographic variety,” writes Brown Professor Luther Spoehr in Rhode Island History. These students represented one cultural background and its cadre of social concerns. They centered their efforts on resistance to the Vietnam War and rights for African Americans, women, and students.

Magaziner’s investment in his cause was more intellectual than emotional. He and several classmates wrote a 400-page report identifying curricular problems and proposing solutions for a Group Independent Study Project. From there, he and a cohort of 20 student organizers “set out to mobilize the whole student body. If we had large numbers, we could achieve greater results with moderate tactics,” he wrote in a recent essay.

Differences in participation result not from disorganization created by social media but from fundamental changes in the goals of student movements.

As president of the Undergraduate Council of Students, Magaziner was perfectly positioned to rally his peers. At that time, the structure of the UCS gave it a comprehensive reach. While today, students self-nominate and collect signatures to join, in the 1960s, each residential area elected its own representatives. Magaziner coordinated with representatives to get into buildings and gather small groups of students for preliminary discussions. He presented details of the report and followed up with whoever seemed interested.

This small start yielded massive results, namely, a large network of students that could be called upon to assemble at the drop of a hat. By November, upwards of one thousand students — more than a quarter of Brown undergraduates — regularly attended rallies on the Main Green. A petition demanding a joint student-faculty committee to evaluate the curriculum garnered signatures from over half the student body.

Victory arrived in April of 1969. In a scene almost like a grand finale, nearly 80 percent of Brown’s student body gathered on the Green to hear the curricular committee’s decision. The resulting academic freedom produced a climate of intellectual passion that members of the Brown community from freshman to high-level administrators still celebrate.

Victory has yet to come for the 65 black students who walked out of their Brown and Pembroke classes in the fall of 1968, when Magaziner’s movement was in full swing, demanding that black enrollment represent its proportion of the national population. Despite a petition of support from Magaziner’s network and promises from the administration, Brown’s black students still comprise only 6.8 percent of its undergraduates compared to a national proportion of 13.3 percent.

Students walked out of class again in protest on November 16, 2016, seeking to call attention to this failure and to demonstrate solidarity with groups most at risk following the election. Approximately 400 students participated, carrying signs and chanting from Wriston to the Quiet Green. By marching, the students participated in the national #OurCampus and #SanctuaryCampus movements. They demanded increased protections and resources for underrepresented student groups and a paid committee of three students to oversee their implementation. Curricular reforms, including more professors of color, new courses, and increased funding for centers for students of color were represented, but were hardly the main focus.

The November walkout highlighted many characteristics of modern campus movements. Students rallied according to information on a Facebook page, and, though members of various advocacy groups spoke, there was no obvious leader. The advent of social media enabled both these changes, but they have less to do with systems of disseminating information and more to do with the emphasis of identity politics on inclusivity and collaborative leadership. It is more a categorical change between generations than an organizational one.

The demands of young activists reflect concern over not only internal problems but a comprehensive range of changes in the structure of society itself. They demand reforms that are more complex and perhaps less immediately palatable to administrators than Magaziner’s academic campaign. The still-unsatisfied 1968 demands of black students for proportional enrollment are proof that change in defiance of the trajectory of structural oppression is more difficult to enact.

Rather than comparing the success of Magaziner’s campaign with modern movements and attributing the differences to social media, it is necessary to consider them together. Such evaluation yields a new context for Brown’s New Curriculum. Magaziner’s success resulted from incredible hard work and dedication, deep thought and careful organization. But it also resulted from a kind of privilege no longer standard for each student at Brown.

 

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Help wanted: Facebook is seeking a Head of Public Policy in Bangkok, Thailand. Responsibilities include monitoring Thai politics, working with the government and private sector partners regarding technology policy, promoting the use of Facebook, and communicating Facebook’s policy agenda to national leaders. With this vaguely defined job opening, the company looks to add to its team of global corporate diplomats.

There are two parts of Facebook: the product and the company. Facebook’s website is like Yalta or Geneva or Paris: It’s a venue for diplomacy, not a party in negotiations. Nor is the company a surrogate for American values; the corporation has its own principles of free expression and its own worldview. The company speaks through its proxy diplomats. Facebook borrowed the Google diplomatic model, in which the foreign policy directors “represent the company outwardly” and “translate the policy environment back into the company.” Mark Zuckerberg echoed this objective when he traveled to China to negotiate with national authorities to promote the popularity of the site under Communist Party rule. Facebook policy directors are intended to do the same around the world: propagate the product, and encourage expression. In Bangkok, the dictatorial junta government has combatted ideas of dissent disseminated on Facebook, which is one of the only possible platforms for protest against the regime. Facebook’s global project aims to bolster this function of the social network as a force in the fight for democracy.

The military has held power in Thailand since the 2014 coup d’état, the 11th in the country’s record-breaking history. According to The Economist, the coup included dissolution of the Senate, detention of politicians, journalists, and intellectuals in army camps, and control of the Thai press corps — all of which was approved by the late king. General Prayuth Chan-ocha seized control of the state and became Prime Minister. An August 2016 national referendum ratified a new Constitution that reinforced the junta’s tight grip on the nation and entrenched the military in power, but in the process leading up to the referendum, campaigning against the draft constitution was banned. Only 55 percent of citizens turned out to vote, and there was substantial (39 percent) dissent.

The opposing population was largely made up of the rural poor, known as “red shirts,” and their billionaire advocate and former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Young people in Thailand also mounted a New Democracy Movement to fight the Constitution, with 43 civil and student groups trying to dispute the draft document — including a Facebook page with 86,509 likes. As protests across the country were easily stifled by police forces, the Thai people looked to Facebook to express political opposition — it was their best bet, and what seemed like the safest refuge for resistance. However, their online activism was swiftly met with sedition charges and jail sentences, which rendered the democratic movement powerless.

On Facebook, there still exists grassroots advocacy for democracy in Thailand, despite the government’s attempt to uproot anti-junta sentiment from Thai soil.

In 2014, The junta implored Facebook to censor anti-government content and blocked thousands of defamatory websites. After achieving little success, the junta passed the “Referendum Act” in 2016, which criminalized sedition against the draft Constitution and interference with the vote. Further, Article 116 of the Thai Criminal Code provides for minimum seven year prison sentences to those who “make apparent to the public by words, writing or any other means anything which is not an act within the purpose if the Constitution,” particularly on social networks like Facebook. When a 57-year-old woman posted a Facebook picture of a plastic red bowl with writings from a deposed Prime Minister, she was arrested. The junta detained at least eight more activists who criticized the draft constitution on the social network. The government was unrelenting, and Facebook became its battleground.

An effective Facebook policy director was missing from this equation. The Thai plea to Facebook for censorship in 2014 went unheeded, and consequently, prosecution of Facebook users ensued. The policy director is meant to make sure provisions like the Referendum Act never come into play. The director must negotiate with the junta to find an agreement that balances Facebook’s push for free civic expression with the governmental plea for data access. The team would work to expand Internet coverage to the 57 percent of the Thai population currently in the dark, in accordance with Facebook’s Internet.org movement. Such an effort would make a potent difference — contingent upon the social network’s capacity to choose and deliver democracy.

Facebook tried to do the same in India. Ankhi Das is the Head of Facebook Public Policy there. The Indian government sought access to Facebook user data, and Das was sent to negotiate with the government to expand the reach of the company within the scope of India’s regulatory political purposes. Her primary goal was to “promote the use of Facebook for encouraging civic engagement, community organizing for elections and social causes.” As Facebook tried to implement its Internet.org “Free Basics” program in India, Das was joined by company executives like Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg in lobbying Prime Minister Narendra Modi for Facebook’s expansion. Eventually, in early 2016, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) ruled in favor of net neutrality and gutted Facebook’s attempt to build foundations in India. Das and company failed to get the job done. Facebook’s policy director in Thailand cannot afford to make the same mistake.

Perhaps trusting Facebook with the responsibility to make change in Thailand puts too much power in the hands of a corporation. Perhaps Facebook’s involvement would be an unwanted imposition of Western ideas. Facebook’s interests might be monetarily aligned, but they happen to coincide with American and Western interests of free expression. The difficulty is balancing caution about corporations with concurrent advocacy for free speech. When it comes to Facebook in Thailand, free expression should win out, because the social network may be the Thai people’s best bet. An election is on the horizon for late 2017, and the stakes are too high for Facebook users to be repressed.

A policy director is necessary to give the social network a chance to do its work. In May 2009, VP of Global Communications, Marketing, and Public Policy at Facebook Elliott Schrage discussed the usage of the site for social and political change. He cited numerous examples: in Colombia, people protested the militant FARC movement. In Great Britain, students protested bank fees and charges. In the United States, Barack Obama built his brand and nurtured his campaign using Facebook outreach. Facebook is a platform for the John Stuart Mill “marketplace of ideas,” where the right viewpoint supposedly wins out. On Facebook, there still exists grassroots advocacy for democracy in Thailand, despite the government’s attempt to uproot anti-junta sentiment from Thai soil. Thailand’s marketplace of ideas is untapped and controlled by the omnipotent hand of its government, but that might be due to change.

No matter how much the government claims they are unperturbed, the junta’s detainment of Facebook activists reflects some paranoia. The junta incriminates free expression on Facebook and thus belittles Facebook’s company values. Facebook’s greatest strength is its marketplace of ideas, which can bring the Thai cause to the attention of democratically conscious citizens around the world and galvanize them to action. Facebook events of protests would sprout up, a wave of profile picture filters (albeit passive support) would wash over the site, and citizens would lobby their governments to intervene. When global news coverage does not suffice, Facebook is a substitute that amplifies a plea for democracy that reverberates on computers from Bangkok to Boston, Bratislava to Beirut.

The Thai people are only a few clicks away from exposure to anti-Constitution and anti-junta ideas. The political situation would be very different if those eight detained activists turned into millions. If the 39 percent who opposed the Constitution, and more who did not vote flooded the social network with anti-junta messages, it would be a call to activism for the rest of the world, and certainly warrant a “trending” label on the website. Facebook would lay the groundwork for global (and governmental) involvement by incorporating the people on the ground. In other words, they would foster public diplomacy.

Public diplomacy is a country’s transparent communication with the citizens of other nations in order to promote national interest, according to the USC Center on Public Diplomacy. Facebook is not a country, but it is a platform for the transparent exchange of ideas. In this case, Facebook allows for the dissenting Thai coalition to spread its message to the rest of the country and the world. As former dean of the Harvard Kennedy School Joseph Nye said, “In the information age, it’s not just whose army wins but whose story wins.” Facebook’s involvement in diplomatic bargaining would provide a lens for the dominant story in Thailand to shine through, whatever that story may be.

Moving forward, the best opportunity for change in Thailand is the next election, which is tentatively planned for late 2017. There remains hope for democracy in the country, and Facebook has the capacity to expound upon that feeling and make it a reality. Thailand is a nation at a crossroads, with a reckless government at the wheel and 67 million citizens in the passenger seat. Facebook has the opportunity to help navigate this turbulent time in Thailand.

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The events playing out across Brazilian public high schools could very well have been penned by William Golding, but they are far from fiction. Thousands of students have taken over their schools and set up camp in the classrooms where, were it normal times, they would be absorbing hours of didactic lectures in preparation for the vestibular, the highly competitive entrance exams for the country’s universities. Brazil’s current reality, however, is far from “normal times.”

The occupations come as a reaction to a proposed reform in the public high school educational system which, if implemented, will begin next year. Headed by Michel Temer, who recently assumed power after the successful impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, not much is clear yet about the specifics of the reforms. They are likely to cause drastic changes in the routines of millions of students, including the possible renunciation of the arts, physical education, and philosophy as mandatory subjects. The surprise surrounding such an announcement, one lacking any prior dialogue within the scholastic community of both teachers and students, has led to vehement indignation; in response, high-schoolers in over 850 schools have set up camp, refusing to move or leave.

The form of these occupations isn’t unprecedented; just last year in the state of São Paulo, students occupied over 200 schools. Governor Geraldo Alckmin, whose party has been in power for over twenty years in the state, attempted to hastily implement a reform that would close hundreds of schools and relocate thousands of students. Nothing went as expected. The proposal caused enormous backlash, with thousands of students refusing to leave the schools, which faced imminent closure. With no clear strategy for negotiation or resolution, the Governor resorted to the police force in an attempt to forcibly evacuate occupied schools, causing an even larger backlash. Pictures and videos of high-schoolers confronting fully armed police in defense of their schools spread like wildfire across the media. The Governor, under heavy pressure from the public and the media, and with little choice left, stepped back the planned reforms, and promised “dialogue, school by school”, cementing the success of the student’s initiative.

The impressive triumph of last year’s movements pushed students to follow the same form of protest in response to the Temer government’s proposed reform. This year’s narrative has added a morbid twist, however, lending itself more to a comparison with Golding’s Lord of the Flies than the reality of last year’s movement: the murder of a student inside one of the schools.

Lucas Eduardo Araújo Mota, 16 years old, was stabbed to death on October 24, by a fellow classmate, in Curitiba, Paraná, in the south of Brazil. The public state school was in its 11th day of occupation when it was rocked by the murder of one the movement’s members. The police quickly evacuated the school, detaining the self-confessed stabber, only 17 years old. To add to the sensationalism, in his confession, the unnamed 17-year-old claimed that a misunderstanding had broken out between him and Lucas after they both used an unnamed synthetic drug. Tensions escalated quickly and a fight broke out, in which, with a knife he had concealed, the confessor stabbed Lucas in alleged “self-defense.”  The state’s governor, seizing the opportunity, quickly released a press statement calling for the evacuation of all occupied schools, proclaiming “[Lucas’ death] is a shocking tragedy, which merits a profound reflection from our society […] The occupation of schools in Paraná has surpassed all good sense.

Those who seek to justify aggressive government action rest on a false equivalency. The government and the students are not two equal forces, and thus cannot be held accountable in the same way.

Despite the tragic event, few schools have followed the governor’s appeals. Instead, students are attempting to further cement their cause, refusing to allow the tragedy to eclipse their larger movement. Public and media opinion is shifting against them, however, as the story of a drug-induced murder flares across the nation, along with surging reports of the depredation of school property. In response, students leading the movement are attempting to isolate the event, and shift the attention to the government’s role in the situation.

Strong critics of the movement, who have gained strength and legitimacy since the murder, call the students rash and argue that the occupations are destructive and dangerous. President Temer himself has pointed to the occupations as proof of the  “lack of respect for institutions” in the country. This rhetoric serves to justify aggressive initiatives by the state, and its police force, to evacuate and secure the schools, many which have already begun to be implemented. Recent reports have claimed that some governors have resorted to siege-like measures, such as cutting off food, water, and electrical supplies, and blocking the interaction between the students and their relatives in an attempt to debilitate the occupations.

Putting aside discussions of the political intricacies of the reform, those who seek to justify aggressive government action rest on a false equivalency. The government and the students are not two equal forces, and thus cannot be held accountable in the same way. The student movement can have flaws and failings, although of course these should be prevented and minimized. The government, on the other hand, needs to act flawlessly, or at least as close as possible to it. If the students are being violent or depredating property, this does not justify violent actions perpetuated by the state; this includes not only the use of force but also measures with harmful intentions, such as impeding of access to basic needs. This might seem largely unfair in principle, but it is for this reason that the state has been delegated power: if it’s been given the monopoly on violence and order, it must have the monopoly on reason, too.

The students are citizens of the state, and the government’s utmost responsibility is to protect its citizens, especially so when they are mostly minors. Ensuring the safety of students should overtake any other political interest; this cannot come at the expense of their civil liberties, however. Marginalizing the movement and the students to the brink of lawlessness is destructive and antithetical to the role of government. It further alienates the students who rose precisely because they felt disenfranchised and thus does the opposite of solving the root issue. The government cannot posit itself as an equal, opposite force to the students, because it is not.

Critics claim, in opposition to this argument, that by giving the movement too much space, protests like these will be incessantly recurrent, with students undermining all laws with which they disagree. Here, yet another fallacy is presented: that of a slippery slope. A plethora of factors play into the triggering of an occupation, and its consequent maintenance, and only a cause of extenuating implications can prompt them. Thousands of students, from hundreds of schools, have come together to carry out this movement. To assume that this will happen repeatedly is to implicitly assume the worst of these students: that they are spoiled, lazy, and acting without a cause. Proponents of this argument confound the cause with the effect, the symptom with the illness.  Furthermore, they undermine the nature of democracy, in which all citizens, equal under the law, have a right to protest and expression, and will naturally do so. This does not mean that the movement is exempt from criticism, it simply means that the government can’t use its actions to justify its own.

There is much uncertainty regarding the future of the occupations, the movement, and the proposed reform. The students are determined to stay put, and it does not seem likely that they will voluntarily leave the schools anytime soon. The government’s only goal moving forward should be to minimize any damage or possible harm, even if it means providing students with the resources they need. If the movement resists deterrence, even after all resources have been provided and the reform is further fleshed out, then maybe the Brazilian government and its legislators should not ask themselves how it is that they are going to solve this problem, but rather why it is that there is a problem in the first place. Maybe then, they’ll start to find some more concrete answers.

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If the Nobel Prize in Literature was established to celebrate words that empower, then the Swedish Academy’s selection of Bob Dylan is long overdue. In the past fifty years, one would be hard pressed to find an individual — presidents and popes included — whose words have had a more profound societal impact than Dylan. With the scratchy spin of the vinyl and the crackling of the radio, he disseminated ideas with poetic messages that verged on the prophetic. Through his words, Bob Dylan dramatically effected the trajectory of world culture through his reflection on social justice and his lasting influence on the masses and political leaders alike. More than simply honor his poetic contribution, the Academy’s selection of Dylan proves that he is still a figure engrained in the American political and social landscape.

Despite his reluctance to consciously enter the political arena, Dylan’s influence has had a vast and meaningful impact on politics. Breaking into the world of music in 1961 as a politically charged songwriter, Dylan emphasized the agency of his listeners in the issues of the era.  This marked a clear shift in the nature of political expression in music.  While many of his successors, such as Sam Cooke in “A Change is Gonna Come” and Pete Seeger in “We Shall Overcome,” offered listeners fortitude in the face of oppression by stressing that one day the oppression would end, Dylan advocated the ability of the individual to be the change they seek.  Through major hits like “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” Dylan called to action likeminded youth, while simultaneously requesting that obstinate sources of power — among them senators, congressmen, mothers, and fathers — to step away from their “rapidly fading” old order.  Dylan’s words helped usher in the new decade, one marked by the promise of political and social progress based upon the agency for change, not faith in it.

Dylan’s commentary on social justice was both timely and poignant, a meaningful combination for many in the American public. He wrote songs that were inextricably linked to specific social injustices in the United States.  In “Only a Pawn in the Game,” he simultaneously lamented the death of civil rights activist Medgar Evers and the social degradation that caused a poor white man like Byron De La Beckwith to kill him.  In “Masters of War”, Dylan forcefully admonished the military-industrial complex.  In “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues,” he mocked fear of communism and counter-culture movements, using the song to warn against the dangers of stifling political expression.  Dylan was remarkably in tune with the American left, which was frustrated by the slow progress of the Civil Rights Movement, uneasy about the increasing American military presence in Vietnam, and still recovering from the witch-hunts of McCarthyism.

Even when Dylan’s music stopped being overtly political, a transition marked for many by his infamous electric performance at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, he continued to be a societal figure, forever analogous to the ideals of youth rebellion and dissatisfaction. Dylan’s impact, nebulous by the design of the artist, is perhaps best exemplified in how he inspired his fellow musicians. In serving as an inspiration to those who continued his topical songwriting, Dylan’s legacy multiplied. Credit must be given to Neil Young for the ingenuity in his politically-charged songs; his song “Ohio” with bandmates David Crosby, Graham Nash and Stephen Stills embodied youth angst after the 1970 Kent State Massacre, and “Let’s Impeach the President” represented the musician’s disapproval of George W. Bush.  However, Young is also quick to give Dylan the recognition he deserves as an inspiration: “[Dylan’s] the master,” Young said in 2005. “If I’d like to be anyone, it’s him.”  In keeping with the post-Dylan era of topical songwriting, both of Young’s songs are calls to action, the former being a call to end political suppression of youth and the latter a call to end the Bush Presidency and with it the War in Iraq.

Dylan’s commentary on social justice was both timely and poignant, a meaningful combination for many in the American public.

Dylan remained a commendable force even after his break with topical songwriting due to his ability to incorporate implicit societal analysis, rather than explicitly discussing political or social issues, in his songs, a strategy later adopted by artists like Bruce Springsteen.  In his memoir Born to Run, released this October, Springsteen paid homage to Dylan, the subtle societal commentator:

Highway 61 Revisited and Bringing It All Back Home [Dylan’s first two non-political albums] were not only great records, but they were the first time I can remember being exposed to a truthful vision of the place I lived…The world he described was all on view, in my little town, and spread out over the television that beamed into our isolated homes, but it went uncommented on and silently tolerated…A seismic gap had opened up between generations and you suddenly felt orphaned, abandoned amid the flow of history, your compass spinning, internally homeless. Bob pointed true north and served as a beacon to assist you in making your way through the new wilderness America had become.”

Dylan’s profound impact on American youth, is supported by empirical data. In the 1979 book Woodstock Census: The Nationwide Survey of the Sixties Generation, Rex Weiner and Deanne Stillman found that 72 percent of the respondents asserted their admiration for Dylan, and claimed that he had significantly influenced them as a societal leader. This statistic made him the most influential individual in the entire study, with only the Beatles, at 79 percent, having more reported influence. These results are even more astonishing when compared to that of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., who only influenced an estimated 62 percent of respondents.

While the legacy of Dylan has long been felt and recognized in many private circles, his impact on the public sphere is also evident. President Obama’s praise of Dylan, delivered during his presentation of the Medal of Freedom to Dylan in 2012, was markedly personal and revealed of Dylan’s deep-rooted impact on Obama himself. At the time, the president said, “There is not a bigger giant in the history of American music…I remember, in college, listening to Bob Dylan and my world opening up because he captured something about this country that was so vital.”  And while he is not known to speak that openly about artists, in many ways, President Obama’s embracing of Dylan seems natural. It would only be logical for a man who campaigned for the presidency in 2008 with the messages of change and hope to have found inspiration in the counterculture of Bob Dylan.

However, it should be noted that Dylan as a political symbol has been conversely utilized to challenge the progressive ideals that he represents for so many. There has been a long history of the American judiciary system using quotes from Dylan in cases. However, what is so surprising is that the most notable evocations have come from the more conservative justices, such as Chief Justice John Roberts and the late Antonin Scalia.  The citation of Dylan by the Justices, particularly the late conservative bulwark Scalia, is perplexing.  In 2010, the Supreme Court heard the case of City of Ontario v. Quon, delving into the application of the Fourth Amendment and its ban of unreasonable search and seizure in the modern technological age. The case involved officers from Ontario, California who had used government-issued pagers to send personal messages, some of which were sexually explicit.  The Court ruled that the city had not violated the officer’s Fourth Amendment rights in searching the devices, and that the officers should not have had expected confidentiality when using the government-issued resources. While concurring with the Court’s decision, Justice Scalia nonetheless chastised the Court’s fickle stance on the intersection of technology and privacy. He suggested that the Court’s tendency to handle events like on a literal case-by-case basis shirked its responsibility of informing private action through the lens of the Constitution.  He concluded: “‘The-times-they-are-a-changin’ is a feeble excuse for disregard of duty.” Yet, Scalia’s use of the reference delivers a message far from the intended original meaning of the song.  In quoting this iconic symbol of progress, Scalia suggests that even though entities like technology are in a state of evolution, how our society handles their interaction with our core legal values must remain constant.  Through such analysis, Dylan, an emblem of societal inversion for so many, is equated with the American political left, likening the rebuking of Dylan with a critique of the progressive political current.

In a press conferencein San Francisco in 1965, an astute reporter asked Dylan, “Do you think of yourself primarily as a singer or a poet?”  Through a cloud of cigarette smoke and with a coy smile, Dylan’s retort was “I think of myself more as a song-and-dance man.”  For decades, fans and critics of Dylan alike have attempted to prescribe a set of labels and political policies through which they can understand the ideology he represents.  However, the genius of Dylan as a cultural icon is that even after he left both politics and the limelight, he continues to inspire countless people. In constantly defying the expectations of others, whether it be on the Newport stage in 1965 or winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016, Bob Dylan has cemented himself as an emblem of change, progress, and innovation, ideals that remain present in every stage of the American political landscape. These ideals immortalize him an ever-relevant societal and political force.

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On July 23, 2012,  Jehad Sadeq Aziz Salman and Ebrahim Ahmed Radi al-Moqdad took to the streets of the Bahraini capital Manama’s suburbs. The potent memories of the Arab Spring still lingered in the air of the suburb Bilad al-Qadeem, and, swept up in this fervor, Jehad and Ebrahim left home to take part in an anti-government protest. Just a few hours after they arrived at the protest, they were taken away by the police and never returned home. At the time, they were just 15 and 16.

Security forces arrested Jehad and Ebrahim along with three older men, taking them to the Criminal Investigations Directorate for interrogation and then to the Public Prosecution Office for further questioning. In that time, the boys appear to have been the victims of unnecessary force: Jehad later told his family that he was beaten over the back of the head with a gun butt en route to the police station. Without a lawyer or family member present, the two were forced to sign confessions. In a statement to the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, Ebrahim claimed to have been “taken to a burnt armored vehicle where he was given a script to read while being videotaped, confessing to burning it.” They were then formally charged under the Bahrain Penal Code and a 2006 anti-terrorist law — a law heavily criticized by the United Nations Human Rights Office — with charges ranging from “intending to murder” to “illegal gathering and rioting” among others. Months later, on October 16, 2012 and April 4, 2013, the High Criminal Court in Manama issued a guilty verdict for Jehad and Ebrahim, sentencing the two teenagers to a 10-year prison sentence. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring protests, many Bahraini youths have shared their fate.

Those events took place in the context of the escalation of anti-government sentiment in Bahrain, where Arab Spring protests began in February 2011 and were centered upon calls for an elected Parliament and a new constitution. After the killing of demonstrators at the Pearl Roundabout, protests demand the end of the Al Khalifa family’s rule. One month into the uprising, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa authorized the interference of some 1,500 troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Then, just three months before the arrests of Jehad and Ebrahim, as the world’s Formula One Racing community congregated in Manama for the Grand Prix, anti-government activists hurled petrol at security forces and burned pyres near the track. Soon after, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, the prominent anti-government activist who was given a life sentence, ended his 110-day hunger strike in prison. Though the Biladal-Qadeem protests occurred in midsummer, to the protesters, it still very much felt like Spring.

The story of Jehad and Ebrahim is representative of the struggle for human rights — and particularly youth rights — in Bahrain. Their struggle for political expression and the right of assembly has transformed into a struggle for a more just legal system that respects child rights. Because so much political opposition continues to originate from Bahraini youth, the struggle of Jehad and Ebrahim reveals that the protection of political expression is synonymous with the protection of Bahraini children.

Despite its supposed adherence to the CRC and numerous calls from international organizations to reestablish 18 as the legal age of adulthood, Bahrain continues to try citizens as young as 15 as adults.

Furthermore, while the Arab Spring’s impact on lives in the Middle Eastern writ large is undeniable, it particularly affected the youth in countries like Bahrain where it was strongly felt. So, in the movement’s wake, children’s rights in the country have taken on an even greater meaning. Disproportionately, Middle Eastern youth have been the victims of low wages, high unemployment, and high food prices. Moreover, thanks to unprecedented global interconnectedness through media and technology, this demographic has been exposed to images that challenge the status quo of its government.

Since the Arab Spring protests, trial and imprisonment have become flawed tools of silencing political dissidents. In 2011, Bahraini King Al Khalifa established the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) to investigate allegations of human rights abuse. The BICI found that hundreds of people had been convicted of charges related to the rights of free expression and peaceful assembly, and it called for the convictions of all those charged with offences related to political expression and advocacy dropped. However, Bahraini youth continue to pay the price of exercising their freedom to protest: Over 200 minors are currently in Bahraini prisons, and 100 of them are kept in adult facilities. Among them are Jehad and Ebrahim, housed in Bloc 3 of Jaw Prison. Moreover, since Jehad and Ebrahim’s arrests, the trend of youth arrests has not reversed. 2015, regarded as the worst year for the right to freedom of assembly since 2011, saw 1765 arbitrary arrests by Bahraini authorities for political reasons; of these, 120 were children.

Bahraini legal practices are direct contraventions of international human rights laws — laws that Bahrain has ostensibly subscribed to in several multilateral agreements. In 1992, Bahrain, along with 140 other international signatories, ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). In signing the CRC, governments pledged to protect children from ill treatment and torture and, when detaining is necessary, to give individuals under 18 years of age special protections, including separation from adults in detention. Indeed, the housing of juveniles in adult facilities has been proven both detrimental and dangerous to the adolescent: Datacollected from the United States shows that juveniles are 36 times more likely to commit suicide in an adult facility than in a juvenile facility. Despite its supposed adherence to the CRC and numerous calls from international organizations to reestablish 18 as the legal age of adulthood, Bahrain continues to try citizens as young as 15 as adults.

In Jaw Prison in May 2014, a fight broke out in Jehad and Ebrahim’s cell. Prison guards were caught beating some of the young men in the cell, possibly including Jehad. Fourteen prisoners, among them Jehad, were later placed into solitary confinement; as a result, Jehad missed his first appeal on May 20. Jaw Prison’s affinity for solitary, a practice increasingly accepted as a form of torture, is all the more terrifying when it is used on juveniles. As Laura Dimon of The Atlantic notes, “If solitary confinement is enough to fracture a grown man, it can shatter a juvenile.” Solitary confinement is a huge risk to juveniles: data shows that they are 19 times more likely to kill themselves in isolation than in a general population with other inmates. Approximately half of all suicides in the juvenile criminal system take place when a young person is held in solitary. Obviously, Bahrain is not alone in its proclivity for juvenile solitary confinement, but the Bahraini situation is a unique case because so many of the Bahraini youth prison population are imprisoned due to political participation. As the sources of political discontent remain, there is little reason to believe that this will change in the near future.

The case of Jehad and Ebrahim shines an ironic light on the subject of youth political participation. Whereas in much of the West, youth political participation is encouraged, in Bahrain, that participation is seen as toxic. The international media has portrayed the Arab Spring as a victory for Middle Eastern youth while ignoring the unintended and unanticipated side effects of political expression in a country like Bahrain. The government of King Hamad continues to use legal persecution to silence dissent, a practice that disproportionately endangers youth, the driving force behind one of the most influential political movements of our time. As long as the Bahraini criminal justice system continues to be used as a political silencing tool, Bahraini youth will remain victims of the status quo against which they so bravely protest.

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Eight Days a Week a recently released documentary, directed by Ron Howard, sheds light on the early touring years of The Beatles as they played across America for the first time. The four mop-topped bandmates, John, Paul, George, and Ringo, were without a doubt the most recognizable and famous personalities in the world and possibly history — as John famously and controversially said in 1966, “The Beatles are bigger than Jesus.”  Beatlemania was at its peak.

Using never before seen footage of the group’s backstage more private moments, the documentary illuminates the more human and quaint side of these monumental figures. One of the key moments in the film is the discovery of an oft-forgotten episode in the group’s early touring years: the band’s headstrong refusal to play in front of segregated audiences in the United States. The documentary sheds light on and affirms the effectiveness of the use of performance in contemporary music as a tool to advance social change, a practice that has endured to this day. While the form and application of these performance-based protests have changed, evinced by the recent examples of the boycotts of North Carolina, its principal objective and efficacy remain the same.

The day was September 11, 1964, and the Beatles were scheduled to play the Gator Bowl stadium in Jacksonville, Florida. A few days beforehand, when they learned that the audience would be segregated, the band threatened to boycott the concert: “We never play to segregated audiences and we aren’t going to start now. I’d sooner lose our appearance money,” Lennon stated days before the show. The promoters quickly capitulated; they had too much to lose. Beatles concerts were the hottest, most sought-after events in the entire world and promoters weren’t willing to uphold their discriminatory policies at the risk of losing the revenue. In a city where institutionalized segregation was the norm, the arrival of the worldwide mop-top phenomena was able to shatter a deep-rooted racist practice in one performance, albeit for one evening.

Although it didn’t end segregation in Jacksonville, let alone the entire South, the powerful symbolism of this event should not be underestimated; a few twenty-year-olds from Liverpool were able to confront a deeply entrenched mentality through a musical set. This episode demonstrates the colossal dimensions of The Beatles’ impact: not only did they revolutionize contemporary culture and music, they set the precedent for artists being able to act, through their vocation and medium, for the causes they believe in. “At that time, no one that I knew of really took the initiative to address any kind of social issue,” Mark Lindsay, lead singer of also-popular 60’s band Paul Revere & The Raiders, stated in a recent interview regarding the Jacksonville show, providing further evidence of the extent to which the Beatles’ action was pioneering.

While perhaps not as groundbreaking as musical protests in the 1960’s, the more recent example of the boycotting of North Carolina demonstrates that music can still be an effective tool for instigating, or at least clamoring for, change. Earlier this year, North Carolina’s Governor, Pat McCrory signed the infamous “bathroom bill,” HB2, into law. The law denies individuals the right to use restrooms that do not correspond to their biological sex and also limits cities’ autonomy to establish their own antidiscriminatory ordinances. Largely decried as retrograde and highly prejudiced, the law caused dismay and outrage across the US; musicians were no exception, quickly joining these voices of indignation. Bruce Springsteen was one of the first high-profile artists to go a step further by cancelling a scheduled show set to take place in April earlier this year in Greensboro. On his site, Springsteen released a statement providing the following justification: “Some things are more important than a rock show and this fight against prejudice and bigotry — which is happening as I write — is one of them. [The boycott] is the strongest means I have for raising my voice in opposition to those who continue to push us backwards instead of forwards.” Quickly, several other artists scheduled to play in the state, including Ringo Starr, Pearl Jam, and Maroon 5, followed suit and cancelled their concerts. As a result, the issue of the boycotts’ efficacy leapt to the national forefront, along with that of HB2.

We often forget that music is a platform of unprecedented power and influence; unlike politics, it touches and awakens people in an inexplicable manner.

An examination of the effects of these cancellations reveal that these boycotts, although accused of being attention-seeking media spectacles, proved to be at least somewhat successful. By deciding to not show up, the artists put strong economic and media pressures on the state. The Greensboro Coliseum Complex, where Springsteen was booked to play, estimated a loss of $188,000 from just three artist cancellations. This was a major blow to the city, whose economy largely relies on the complex. Although harder to quantify, restaurants and smaller businesses around the arena also complained about major losses due to the artists not showing up; some restaurant managers estimate that the concerts double their revenue.

The City of Greensboro, feeling the impact of the boycotts, sent a letter in May to Governor McCrory asking him to reconsider his support of the law. As Zaid Flehain, the owner of a kebob shop two blocks down from the coliseum, said, “We should be making laws that bring business to North Carolina rather than creating barriers keeping people away from the state.” Moreover, the economic pressures weren’t the only consequence of the boycotts: the media attention played an equally large role. By refusing to play, these artists magnetized publicity to the issue and created a snowball effect; sports organizations such as the NCAA and NBA have pulled several large-scale events from the state, and companies such as PayPal have cancelled million dollar contracts.

This is bad news for Governor McCrory, who is up for re-election next month. According to a SurveyUSA/WRAL poll, 61 percent of North Carolinians believe HB2 hurt the state’s national image and its ability to attract investment. The Governor has largely campaigned on his ability to create new jobs, yet HB2, which he hastily signed and relentlessly defended, has had the opposite effect. The polls for the upcoming November election seem to indicate that North Carolinians hold him responsible.

Other artists have taken a different approach to the situation in North Carolina. Comedian Wanda Sykes, for example, decided not to cancel her show, claiming that her audience would largely be the people targeted by the law. For her, cancelling the show would mean “turning her back on them,” and by performing she would be giving them a voice. This is a valid argument, but only because other artists had already boycotted shows and brought attention to the issue. If none had done this before, her decision to simply keep the performance without making any type of statement would have done little to further the cause against the law. The boycotts seem to have been the most effective manner of magnetizing publicity and placing pressure on the promulgators of HB2.

Though the world has come a long way since Beatlemania, the power of music, which the four mop-tops epitomized, endures. We often forget that music is a platform of unprecedented power and influence; unlike politics, it touches and awakens people in an inexplicable manner. Unlike politicians, who have tangible power, musicians have a more abstract, impalpable influence on people. This power is given to them organically and purely by the listener, who does not require persuading and has no expectation of getting anything in return. A rhythm, a beat, or a lyric can move and connect multitudes; why, then, would musicians not use this power for change and the causes they believe in? The Beatles and the North Carolina boycotts show how this can be masterfully done; more often than not, however, musicians seem to forget this innate power they possess, exchanging it for superficiality and commercial success. The power we have as listeners is to choose what we listen to, and we should use this power consciously. We should shun the musicians who have traded substance for glitter and gold, and instead elevate the musicians who have something to say, those who move us and inexplicably awaken something inside us.  Those are the musicians who will in turn fight for the causes that make the world we live in a better place.

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On August 14, during the first NFL preseason game, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick elected to remain seated during a rendition of the national anthem. He did the same on August 20. His act went unnoticed both times.

At the third preseason game, the media and fans finally caught on. His gesture received extensive media attention and scrutiny in the following days and weeks. At a postgame interview, Kaepernick stated, “I am not going to stand up and show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” He went on to say that he would continue to protest until he feels the American flag “represents what it’s supposed to represent.”

Unsurprisingly, Kaepernick’s protest sparked immediate response across the full spectrum of opinion. While many of those opposed to the protest have framed his actions as an affront to the military, the attempt to discredit Kaepernick ignores the fact that his stand follows a long line of prominent sports figures making strong political statements and is borne out of the urgent necessity of his cause.

Many critics have cast the right to protest as one granted by the military and have visualized Kaepernick’s protest as an insult to the armed forces. Former New York Jets quarterback and sports commentator Boomer Esiason said, “I find it completely disrespectful, not only to the military, but to the men and women who wear the blue uniform and protect our cities every day.” During a recent game, a fan held up a sign that read, “Kaepernick: have you thanked a vet lately? For the right to disrespect our flag.”

In a technical sense, this idea is misguided, as the right to protest is not granted by the military. As politics and sports journalist Dave Zirin notes, “The military doesn’t give us the right to protest, the Constitution does.” It is a nationalist insinuation to suggest that a flag could be “disrespected” through protest. Airing one’s voice is a hallmark of a democracy, not a threat to it.

It is often said that the military “defends” our freedom — a peculiar concept. The word freedom has become a bit of a cliché in post-9/11 America, and most think of the word as synonymous with the American dream: democracy, upward mobility, and equal justice and happiness. In fact, it is this very lack of “freedom” that Colin Kaepernick is protesting.

It is slightly difficult to pinpoint exactly why people see Kaepernick’s protest as an affront to the armed forces. A protest is an essential aspect of democracy. If it somehow contradicts an undemocratic instrument (such as the military), then perhaps that is a dangerous sign. Perhaps we are no longer thinking in terms of free speech and equal voice but instead paying fealty to an institution without addressing the severe problems that face our society.

Perhaps Kaepernick’s choice to sit during the national anthem itself does not sit well with people. There are some who likely associate the Star Spangled Banner with paying respect to our country’s heritage (including its flag) — a sentiment to which the military is apparently connected. In response to this antimilitary critique and to the strongly negative reaction to his actions, Kaepernick has focused his protest on racial tensions in this country and has taken painstaking efforts to respect military members. On September 1, Kaepernick stood and clapped when members of the military took to the field, in contrast to his critics’ portrayal of his protest. That game was also the first in which he kneeled during the national anthem instead of remaining seated in an effort “to show more respect to the men and women who fight for this country.”

It is a nationalist insinuation to suggest that a flag could be “disrespected” through protest. Airing one’s voice is a hallmark of a democracy, not a threat to it.

This action demonstrates that Kaepernick’s protest is in no way incompatible with support for the military. It also shows that, contrary to his critiques’ beliefs, his decision to kneel during the national anthem isn’t a disrespectful one (and thus simultaneously disrespectful to the armed forces), but instead is an attempt to draw attention to his protest, which has nothing to do with the military. A #VeteransForKaepernick trend also sprang up, with many armed forces veterans praising Kaepernick for his stand in the face of intense scrutiny. Former Army Ranger Rory Fanning was particularly vocal in his support of Kaepernick and of the cause for racial equality. Asked what made him decide to “sit with Kaepernick,” Fanning responded, “Because he’s right. We know there’s no accountability for police when they murder African Americans at unprecedented rates…Last year 1,200 people were killed by police, zero of which resulted in convictions for murder or even manslaughter.” Fanning and other vets understand that Kaepernick’s protest, despite its misinterpretation, is about the systemic racism and prejudice that still maintain a strong grip on the United States.

Despite multiple years of focus and protest on the subject, police killings of people in color in the United States have yet to abate. 25.8 percent of African Americans live in poverty today — a substantially higher number than the poverty rate for whites, which sits at 10.1 percent. While these numbers and statistics cannot begin to explain the legacy of racism in America, it is this inequality that Kaepernick is protesting. Kaepernick grew up in a white adoptive family and felt that he was treated differently from his family members, an experience that give him firsthand experience with racism. Despite his now-elevated position in society as an athlete, Kaepernick is sensing the urgency that his black brothers and sisters are facing and is attempting to use his social prominence as an athlete to add to the chorus calling for racial justice.

Kaepernick’s protest — along with its positive and negative responses – fall into a long tradition of sports as a vehicle for showcasing political beliefs. In the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Jesse Owens, an athlete of color, famously dominated the games and challenged Hitler’s ideology of white supremacy. Thirty-two years later and just after the peak of the Civil Rights Movement at the 1968 Olympics, African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos held up black-gloved fists while the Star Spangled Banner played at their medal ceremony, and they described the gesture as a “human rights salute.” The event is one of the most famous political statements in modern sporting history.

At that time, reactions to the Smith and Carlos protest were strong but not typically viewed as an affront to the military. According to Dave Zirin, “When they raised their fists, they were called unpatriotic traitors…But there were few if any instances of them specifically being called ‘antimilitary.’” Even if the negative reactions to both protests weren’t identical, they do have similar undertones. They generally accuse the protester(s) of disrespect for the symbols of our country, and more divisively and undemocratically, accuse him of being a “traitor.” The attempt to silence opposing views by trying to malign and alienate those airing the views is not democratic. Free speech means respecting the right of others to air their views no matter how much they may contrast with one’s own.

Recently, more athletes have spoken out for causes similar to the one Kaepernick is bringing to light. At the ESPY awards in July, NBA star Carmelo Anthony said, “The system is broken, the problems are not new, the violence is not new, and the racial divide definitely is not new, but the urgency for change is definitely at an all-time high.” Fellow star Dwyane Wade followed up by saying, “The racial profiling has to stop. The shoot-to-kill mentality has to stop. Not seeing the value of black and brown bodies has to stop. But also the retaliation has to stop…Enough is enough.”

Kaepernick’s protest certainly has neither fallen solely on critical ears nor remained a one-man show. His original protest of one man kneeling on the sidelines has blossomed into a nationwide following of NFL, college, and even high school players. Entire high school teams have even been photographed taking a knee in support of the causes that Kaepernick’s protest highlights. These nationwide acts of solidarity serve as a way of inspiring local communities to examine their attitudes toward the topics Kaepernick is protesting and to perhaps work toward fairness and justice. Especially in communities that revolve around local high school football teams, such an act makes confronting Kaepernick’s protest unavoidable.

The wildfire-like spread of the protest further illustrates how successful a tool sports can be for advancing political ideas. While many view sports as an escape from reality, an apolitical place of community togetherness, the popularity of sports naturally provides athletics with an immense platform. In 2015, the top twelve shows of the fall were NFL games. 202 million fans tuned in to watch the NFL in 2014. That same year, the NFL brought in $7.24 billion in revenue. As such an intensely followed, multibillion-dollar industry, the NFL seems to be an ideal stage to take a political stance. Because the industry reaches so many people, using sports as a vehicle for protest can potentially engage those who may not have been abreast of such movements. Even President Obama has waded into this debate and has defended the quarterback by saying, “He’s exercising his constitutional right to make a statement. I think there’s a long history of sports figures doing so.”

The speed with which the Kaepernick protest has taken hold points to the popularity and publicity of sports in the United States, and while political demonstrations are less consistently accepted by sports fans, Kaepernick’s protest deserves to be viewed in that same charitable light. He is using his platform to try to help America and Americans, and it is important to remember the reason for his protest as such.

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Waves of protests on college campuses across the United States have opened urgent conversations about the presence of racism in higher educational institutions. This fall, students at various universities, including Yale, Missouri, and Brown, have come together to denounce the ways in which institutionalized racism continues to undermine the educational experience of minority groups. As students organize, a comparison with other student movements around the globe may serve as a point of reference and a source of inspiration for further action.

Just as in the United States, students in South Africa are protesting the unequal access to educational opportunities for historically marginalized communities. The apartheid logic of racial segregation spawned the designation of universities for particular racial groups up until 1994. Although universities have annulled such discriminatory policies, and students may attend any school regardless of their race, the regrouping of different racial communities in the university space has still failed to translate into a dissolution of racial tensions.  Black students attending historically white-designated universities confront institutionalized racism on campuses. The post-apartheid era has bred a freer generation but has also posed new challenges of inclusion in a divided South Africa; in the face of persistent and pervasive racial tensions, students have taken the fight to tackle the remnants of apartheid to their universities.

New generation, new challenges

 Students now attending university in South Africa are the first generation of college students who were born after the repeal of apartheid policies. Unlike their parents, they did not experience the legally enforced racial segregation that characterized most of South Africa’s modern history.  While the legal framework supporting apartheid may have been dismantled before they were born, the legacies of apartheid can still be felt among young South African citizens. For the younger generations, oppression of marginalized groups persists through economic disparities and cultural divisions. Because racial segregation entailed unequal access to economic opportunities, Black citizens faced economic marginalization in addition to segregation during apartheid. As South Africa remains one of the most economically unequal countries in the world, overcoming racial inequalities seems a hard task without simultaneously addressing class marginalization. While the accomplishments of the older generation are not to be overlooked, university students today hope to live in a country more inclusive than the one even their parents envisioned by addressing both racial and economic inequalities in tandem.

Black students attending historically white-designated universities confront institutionalized racism on campuses.

The first wave in the most recent round of student protests began in April 2014, when students from the University of Cape Town demanded the removal of a statue of Cecil Rhodes, a British imperialist, which had been erected in recognition of his multiple donations to academic institutions in the region in the nineteenth century. Yet, as a bold supporter of British colonization of African territories and segregation policies, many students saw the statue as a symbol of oppression and effectively protested until its permanent removal.

Following the success of the protests at the University of Cape Town, in October, Black students took to the streets in Johannesburg and Pretoria railing against an increase of fees in universities that they claimed disproportionally affected minority communities. As the cause resonated across the country, the protests quickly escalated and were described by some as the largest student demonstrations in the post-apartheid era. Despite instances of  repression from the state and the arrest of several students, the movement ultimately achieved its goal. Twitter users reported the developments of the movement via the hashtag #FeesMustFall; when, in early November, the government agreed to cancel the rise on university costs, the hashtag evolved into the victorious #FeesHaveFallen.

Similarly, Black students at the University of Stellenbosch in Johannesburg are protesting the teaching of lessons in Afrikaans, the language historically spoken by the Dutch white community. For most Black students whose first language is English, having lessons conducted in Afrikaans puts them at a disadvantage with their white, Afrikaans-speaking classmates. A similar issue was a target of protests in 1976 in what became known as the Soweto uprising after Soweto, the township area in Johannesburg that, under apartheid law, was designated for Black citizens. In 1976, a call for the instruction of classes in Soweto schools in Afrikaans, despite it not being the first language of most of its inhabitants, led to massive public demonstrations led largely by students.  Today, students are strategically drawing parallels to the 1976 Soweto case, claiming that the language policy belongs to the apartheid era and needs to be remedied.

A bottom-up fight to decolonize the classroom

Today’s protests are not a break from the nation’s history but rather a continuation of South Africa’s historical anti-apartheid movements; those living in South Africa have long been pushing for the integration of historically marginalized Black communities within society and the dismantling of white supremacist policies. But while the anti-apartheid movement focused on eliminating state policies of racial segregation, today’s student mobilizations seek to overcome persistent inequalities and racist practices that are the legacies of the older regime. The voices of students offer a much-needed perspective in pinpointing the issues twenty years of post-apartheid politics have failed to address, particularly in the realm of education.

As in South Africa, student-led efforts for equality in the United States are not new. Recent protests on campuses around the U.S. may be seen as an analogous continuation of the Civil Rights Movement, as students’ aim is to end with persisting racial discrimination against African-Americans and People of Color in general. Students today can look to history and across national boundaries for support as they voice their opinions and actively protest. More broadly speaking, student movements can have a positive effect in changing the conversation at a national level, and encourage mobilization in different sectors of society.  The struggle for the liberation of People of Color does not only pertain to students currently mobilizing but to everyone who seeks to live in a world of justice.

Photo: Tony Carr

The last three years on Twitter have been dominated by the growing import and presence of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, an “international activist movement that campaigns against the [structural] violence towards black people,” focusing heavily on racial violence committed by police forces across the country in the last few months. The movement developed in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin’s murderer. Since then, the campaign has expanded into other arenas of intersectional advocacy—Black lives in the LGBTQ+ spaces,  Black women, and the lives of disabled Black people. This movement, as nebulous as it is—with as many voices as there are Twitter users—has become a lightning rod for commendations and criticisms. Within this storm of chatter, one thing is certain: The #BlackLivesMatter movement is much more than an ephemeral cultural phenomenon.

Earlier this year, in a “quasi-private meeting with activists from the #BlackLivesMatter movement,” Hillary Clinton offered her blunt view on the nature of social progress: “I don’t believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate.” Perhaps she has a point. Is it possible to change people’s hearts, or do laws exist because it is impossible to change people’s hearts and societies must instead act outside the realm of emotion? This movement—which was started as a hashtag on Twitter by three Black women, Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors—negates the difference between individuals and the law, as it seeks to change both concomitantly, demanding them both to change based on the narratives of Black Americans and the demands and actions from the activists within the movement.

One thing is certain: The #BlackLivesMatter movement is much more than an ephemeral cultural phenomenon.

In order to effect these changes on the two levels of institution, the heart and the law, the movement engages its characteristically powerful grassroots members through storytelling on social media. Changing people’s hearts—that is, their internalized views on the intersections of race and other identities—begins with open dialogue and heavy emphasis on lived experiences within systems of oppression that exist to subordinate lives through virulent and insidious white supremacy. A quick search of the #BlackLivesMatter tag on Twitter shows thousands and thousands of tweets, which each echo similar sentiments about the mounting struggles of surviving in a system that was not designed for their success or existence. These are not calls into the void of Twitter; they are heavy messages that scream: “Our existences are not singular and we will never stop our progression towards justice.” The commingling of so many voices is a powerful statement that from individuality comes commonality and strength. It is this mixing that creates the formidable presence of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, both on various social media platforms and in the real world. The cries of the many are able to drown out the droning of those who are in vitriolic opposition to the movement; their presence is felt but swiftly dealt with in swift flurries of replies that repudiate any arguments against with lightning speed. Furthermore, deconstruction of the typical social movement bureaucratic scheme in favor of decentralized nebulosity allows each voice to resonate hundreds of times as each individual activist—each a leader just by speaking out and sharing such personal stories—retweets and replies to hundreds of other users, increasing exponentially the web of communication and sharing voices and unique experiences with other users all over the world. This form of constant two-way communication sheds light upon the racial inequalities that are so ubiquitous today. Not only do they add to the common narrative of all people of color in the US, but they also enlighten the uninformed on the existence of these issues. To speak out is to spread information and possibly change hearts in the process.

These hyper-public dialogues on race in the US are shifting cultural paradigms on how and where it is deemed okay to speak about racial issues. Rather than shouting or typing into nothingness, those involved in the movement are shouting to anyone who will listen—and even to some who adamantly won’t. The extreme emotionality of sharing such personal stories of violent racism, from daily microaggressions to the grandiose policies of institutionalized racial injustice, creates a charged atmosphere of paradoxically commanding vulnerability. The realizations of these dialogues in the real world come in the form of the protests that burst forth on college campuses, at city halls, and even in the middle of major highways. Twitter users turn into activists, demonstrators, and protesters that call for effective change from legislators. The hashtag activism, along with the protests, die-ins, and other forms of direct action tactics, differentiates this contemporary movement from prior movements that stressed church involvement, Democratic Party loyalty, and respectability politics. The tactics utilized by this amorphous group are disruptive to the point of perfection. They force those in power to become uncomfortable with the state of affairs—not always the state of rampant racial injustice, but with the state of disruption—and act or respond in some way. This, in many ways, is different from the tactics of the movement’s predecessors: different, but wholly effective. Its list of accomplishments is growing as more and more politicians listen to the lived experiences of Black people and accept the goals and methodologies of the movement. Thus, the heart does not only merge with the law, but the changes in hearts are precipitating changes in laws and institutions.

The #BlackLivesMatter movement has swept across the country and taken a vice-like hold upon sociopolitical conversations. The constant barrage of tweets and shouts from all directions has forced the movement’s demands to the forefront of dialogue and demands answers with no signs of backing down. The power and prowess of this specific movement lies in its emotional cogency that brings two-fold changes to the arena of public life: changes in hearts and changes in laws. Hillary Clinton may be right in her advice that changing hearts doesn’t work but changing laws does. But her correctness is totally dependent on the temporality of the hearts that are being changed. Hearts already degraded by years of racism and prejudice may be beyond saving, but the hearts of those just beginning to understand the ways racism is so very prevalent in society and the hearts of the next generation are malleable; and it is those young hearts that will bear the burden of reshaping the laws of tomorrow to create a more cohesive world. The political efficacy of the movement is derived from its communal individuality that explodes into formidably present activism; this is not a movement that will fade into the fringes in the coming months, but one that will force the nation in the midst of major political campaigns to confront the harrowing truths of the furtive prejudice that pervades the institutions upon which the country is based.

Photo: Gerry Lauzon

On August 9, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri, a young, unarmed black man named Michael Brown was shot and killed by an on-duty police officer. While it’s a story that’s been told over and over this last month, it is also a story that’s been familiar for decades, repeated countless times, with different names and in different places. The story is about James Boyd in Albuquerque, Manuel Diaz in Anaheim, Oscar Grant III in Oakland, Sean Bell in New York City and many more — all men, often minorities, who were shot and killed by officers ordered to protect and serve.

While the case of each death is unique and the story is shaped by the victim’s family, police departments and the media, what these deaths have most in common is their aftermath. All have been followed by civilian protests and police responses. In 2006, more than 200 protesters were arrested in New York City in reaction to the Bell shooting; a few years later, peaceful protests and riots followed Grant’s shooting and subsequent trial. The day after Diaz’s death — the fifth shooting by the Anaheim police in 2012 — the police killed Joel Acevedo, resulting in increased protestor presence matched by increased paramilitary police deployment. James Boyd’s death this March was also followed by another death a week later when Albuquerque police shot Alfred Redwine and confronted ensuing demonstrations with riot gear and mounted officers. Yet, despite these cases’ differences, the tactics employed, including the use of armored tanks and stun grenades, were overwhelmingly similar: Citizens protesting police brutality were met with more of the same.

Since 1990, when the US Departments of Justice and Defense entered a formal partnership to jointly develop and share technology, the placement of military-grade weaponry into the hands of local law enforcement has grown astronomically. Under the 1033 Program, surplus equipment is passed down to state, county and local-level police departments, though no training or supervision is provided along with it. According to the Defense Logistics Agency, in 2013 nearly $450 million worth of equipment was transferred from the Pentagon to law enforcement. Ostensibly, this program was enacted so that police departments could fight the country’s two major wars: the war on terror and the war on drugs. Yet when the police are fighting wars, the very nature of their job changes. They are no longer peacekeepers, but soldiers.

Most alarmingly, the use of military style weaponry has spilled over from the war on drugs and war on terror into the civilian realm. Police are using military technology to respond to protests against police-caused deaths. Data on police action is rarely released to the public, making it hard to determine or conduct comparisons on the extent to which military grade equipment is used in civilian situations. There may be one indicator, however. In 1984, only 13 percent of mid-size towns and cities (25,000-50,000 inhabitants) employed SWAT teams; today, more than 80 percent do. SWAT stands for Special Weapons and Tactics; SWAT teams consist of police armed with and trained to use military-grade weaponry. The funneling of military equipment to police forces has allowed even small towns like Ferguson to have SWAT teams. Furthermore, one of the provisions of the 1033 Program requires that Pentagon-donated equipment be used within one year or else returned. This provision might help explain the increased use of military grade equipment in civilian situations. In theory, this stipulation simply ensures the continued use of technology that the military has deemed outdated, but in practice it incentivizes law enforcement to respond to charges of non-violent crime with disproportionate displays of strength.

It is therefore unsurprising that the militarization of the police and the increase in SWAT teams, along with the provision compelling weapon use within one year of receiving it, has led not only to an increase in the number of SWAT teams but also in SWAT team deployments. The ACLU estimates that 79 percent of SWAT team deployments between 2011 and 2012 were used to serve search warrants, more than half of which were served to blacks and Latinos. Very rarely is such an extreme display of force necessary or even advisable for home drug searches, when inhabitants are usually unaware and unarmed. In the 1980s there were, on average, 3,000 raids involving SWAT teams every year; in 2005 that number had increased 100-fold to 300,000.

The 1999 Seattle World Trade Organization protests were among the first indicators of what has become a dangerous trend. On November 30, 1999 at least 40,000 demonstrators hit the streets of the World Trade Organization’s Ministerial Conference in opposition to economic globalization. Often known as the Battle of Seattle, both peaceful rallies and anarchist rioting was met with pepper spray and rubber bullets, hundreds of arrests and an imposed curfew. The backlash over law enforcement’s handling of the situation led to the resignation of the Seattle police chief a few months later.

SWAT teams with machine guns and camouflage are increasingly being deployed in situations where the resulting atmosphere of fear is more likely to escalate violence than to reduce it.

Over the next decade, in order to prevent similar chaos and destruction, law enforcement agencies overwhelmingly turned to the use of prevention policies, which has seemingly come to mean intimidation. From 2000 on, political conventions have been designated “National Special Security Events” by the Department of Homeland Security and been the sites of increased police presence. During the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver the size of the police department doubled. The Republican National Convention, held the same year in Saint Paul, saw the arrests of more than 40 journalists. FBI documents on the Occupy movement classified it as a potential criminal threat and delineated counterterrorism procedures to coordinate with local law enforcement in response. The Ferguson protests included the heavy use of tear gas, guns pointed at demonstrators and a governor-instated curfew. Over the past 15 years policing tactics have changed from crowd control and lawful arrests to suppression and dispersion.

The preponderance of full-time SWAT teams and stations filled with machine guns, camouflage and gun-silencers has led to increased deployment of militarized police units in situations where the resulting atmosphere of fear is more likely to escalate violence than to reduce it. If the unrest that has followed shootings around the country — in Ferguson, Albuquerque, Oakland and New York — is any testament, officers clad in armor so that they look more like violent video game characters than members of the community keeping the peace, and agencies that work harder to obfuscate their actions than to communicate with the public, results in even less respect for the law. Rather than attempts to generate submission, active interaction and cooperation between law enforcement and civilians should be the goal.

The aftermath of Ferguson includes a $40 million civil rights lawsuit and an investigation of Darren Wilson, the Ferguson Police Department officer who shot Brown. Meanwhile, three more deaths have surrounded Michael Brown’s: Eric Garner in Staten Island on July 17, John Crawford in Ohio on August 5, and Ezell Ford in Los Angeles on August 11. While the White House has proposed a reevaluation of the 1033 Program, and increases in transparency and accountability seem promising, rebuilding trust in law enforcement will take much more time.

The effects of police militarization extend beyond the everyday use of SWAT teams to serve search warrants, beyond the common use of lethal force by untrained professionals and beyond the suppression of First Amendment protest rights. It creates distrust of those who are meant to keep the peace and it contributes to a society where Michael Brown’s name is just another in an already too-long list of others.

I’m certainly a little late to the party on Ukraine news – leading up to Russia’s bold annexation of Crimea, Ukraine was gripped for months by violent protests after President Viktor Yanukovych pulled out of an association deal with the EU in November. By January Prime Minister Mykola Azarov resigned and President Yanukovych was hot on his heels, fleeing the country in late February. The world watched as deaths from violent rallies mounted and news spread about unidentified soldiers seized buildings and airports in Crimea. On March 1st, President Vladimir Putin received approval from parliament to use force in Ukraine to preserve Russian interests and on the 18th he signed a bill to absorb Crimea into the Russian Federation.

Putin hasn’t looked back since, despite EU condemnations and sanctions levied against key Russian and Ukrainian individuals by the United States and the EU. Old thoughts of competing spheres of influence and a Cold War stand off certainly come to mind and provoke questions about the future of American foreign policy in the region. But I’m interested in an aspect of the Crimea drama that hasn’t received much press time.

Putin publicly invoked the emerging human rights norm ‘R2P,’ as at least a partial justification for his interference in Crimea. R2P – or responsibility to protect – maintains that if a state fails to protect its nationals from severe human rights abuses including ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, the international community assumes the responsibility of protection. The doctrine breaks from a historic respect for Westphalian sovereignty and is seen by many as a response to the general lack of consensus of of the international community while handling horrific and widespread human rights violations in the late 20th century, including atrocities committed in Rwanda, Kosovo, Bosnia, and Somalia. The speaker of the Duma, Russia’s legislating body, stated that President Putin has been authorized to, “use all available means to protect the people of Crimea from tyranny and violence.”

So, though neither Russians nor Ukrainians are currently threatened by large scale human rights abuses – at its worst, ethnic Russians feel discriminated against because of use of the Russian language – Putin has justified strong-arming the geographically strategic region with protection for human rights. If this doesn’t make sense to you, you’re in the majority! Putin’s call to R2P has been widely dismissed as, ““an attempt to cloak aggressive action through the mantle of humanitarian intervention.” Not only are grievous human rights abuses not taking place, Ukraine is still capable of addressing such abuses if they were to occur, proving a lack of justification for the violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty. Additionally, many ethnic Russians comprise the pro-Ukraine protesters rallying for closer ties to the West.

This isn’t to say Russia is the first nation to manipulate R2P for the purposes of national interest. The United States’ and other western nations’ involvement in Libya in 2011 has become a supposed model for international intervention in sovereign countries for the purposes of protecting civilians. However, a report by Alan Kuperman calls to question the unadulterated human rights interest of the U.S. and NATO while assisting Libyan rebels to eventually overthrow the Gadhafi regime. Kuperman reports that intervention conclusively prolonged and extended the conflict; NATO didn’t encourage rebels to pursue a ceasefire, which would have limited civilian deaths. It was in the interest of the West to affect a regime change, which they succeeded in doing. However, by keeping alive the cause of the rebels, NATO prolonged the conflict, which inevitably resulted in higher civilian casualties.

What happens when 8,000 people decide to go to the mall together? This is not the tagline of a B movie about Black Friday. Instead, it is becoming a legitimate question in Brazilian society, generating debate over crucial public issues of race, class and urban planning. A new chapter in Brazil’s recent wave of youth mobilization, the mass mall gatherings, called rolezinhos’  (little strolls), are now sweeping the country’s urban centers, putting the spotlight on a long-marginalized class of young people from the urban periphery.

Since December, rolezinhos have descended on malls in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. The vast majority of those who join the crowds come from neighborhoods that are poor and marginalized, mostly from the urban periphery — yet the same neighborhoods that increasingly partake in Brazil’s economic expansion and general trend towards greater social mobility. The gatherings themselves involve a lot of running around (sometimes from the police), singing of ‘Funk’ (a rap-like musical genre popular in ‘favelas) and making general raucous. There have been accusations that some rolezinhos have resulted in shoplifting or even mass robberies, but the vast majority of them seem peaceful until the police get involved.

Mall in Leblon, Rio de Janeiro.
Mall in Leblon, Rio de Janeiro.

The first rolezinho of note took place on December 8, at the Metro Itaquera mall in Sao Paulo. It is hard to pinpoint what sparked this first gathering. The culmination of a chronic lack of safe public space combined with the large number of malls in Sao Paulo, the welcome air-conditioned environment in contrast to the scalding 95 degree summer heat (Fahrenheit), as well as the fact that teenagers were off from school may each point to an answer. At least in this first rolezinhos, it seemed like the goal was to have fun, as opposed to making an overt political point. Organized through Facebook, the Metro Itaquera rolezinho gathered 6,000 people. Employees closed their stores and called the police, fearing an ‘arrastao‘ (mass robbery) – a frequent occurrence in cities involving large groups of young men sweeping an area, stealing from pedestrians as they go.

Armed police soon cracked down and arrested two men for stealing before quickly dispersing the crowd. But only three days later, a second rolezinho assembled on another Sao Paulo mall, drawing around 2,500 people. This time, police were alert and on edge: 22 people were arrested because they were “about to start a robbery.” Soon, Facebook events for so-called ‘solidarity rolezinhos’ began popping up organically, in response to the aggressive police actions. In a classic snowball effect, more events were scheduled, with greater and greater numbers of people planning to attend. Unlike the separate mass political demonstrations that took place last June, rolezinhos were not sparked by a particular group or driven by an expressly political agenda, at least not initially. The birth of a rolezinho goes something like this: someone creates a Facebook event, it starts to trend, and soon enough, thousands of people are at the doorstep of a Sau Paulo mall.

On January 11, another rolezinho occurred in Metro Itaquera — now ground zero for the movement. This time, the police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. Videos of police officers in Metro Itaquera striking at will with nightsticks against those attending the rolezinho (many of whom were minors) popped up across the Internet.

It appears that rolezinhos were initially more a social event than a political protest. In fact, many of the people attending (or ‘rolezeiros‘, as they’ve come to be known) claimed they were only there because they had nothing else to do – a symptom of the chronic lack of safe public space in Brazil’s urban centers, especially in poorer neighborhoods. When asked why they attend, a common response among male rolezeiros is “to meet girls.” It was the police response that infused the rolezinho with its new political edge.

Brazilians face a reality in which police in Brazil act with few scruples when it comes to the poor. The daily burdens many are subjected to – constant suspicion, unwarranted searches, being hrolezinhold without charges and often worse – are mostly foreign to the overwhelmingly white members of the elite and upper-middle class. But as growing numbers of Brazil’s poor are lifted into the lower middle class and begin occupying spaces previously dominated by the rich, tensions inevitably arise — hence the political significance of the rolezinhos, and the police response which has, at times, appeared arbitrarily violent.

Rolezinhos remind us of the increasing social mobility of the poor, but also the growing consumerism across all social classes. Much of the Funk that is played and sung during rolezinhos is a sub-genre called Funk Ostentacao (Ostentatious Funk), with lyrics full of brand names and artists that wear large gold chains and drive expensive cars. In Brazil especially, consumption brings status — exactly what one is desperately searching for when treated like a second-class citizen. At least in the beginning of the movement and before its political reformation, rolezinhos were gatherings in which an emerging class could meet to show off their new powers of consumption, limited as they might still be, and take part in the consumer culture that has long excluded them by assembling in that utmost temple to modern consumption – the shopping mall. They have served to illuminate the fact that even as the purchasing power of the poor has improved, their neglected place in society has not.

As the police response to rolezinhos became more violent, the movement grew bolder. Gatherings convened with quickening speed and even greater numbers. Now they not only infiltrated middle-class malls, but also some of the most upscale malls in Rio and Sao Paulo – the kind where shoppers are overwhelmingly white and where even small groups of people who do not fit the profile of the usual shopper are treated with suspicion by mall security. When a rolezinho was organized at JK Iguatemi, one of Sao Paulo’s most luxurious malls, security set up a series of checkpoints near the entrance. ‘Unaccompanied minors’ were stopped at the first checkpoint; anyone who looked ‘suspicious’ was stopped at the second and asked to show ID. People who were richly dressed and had whiter skin were not stopped.

Now several malls have acquired court orders to block the rolezinhos. The exact mechanism through which mall employees will sort out who is taking part in the rolezinho and who is only there to shop remains uncertain. To avoid this fragile situation altogether, some malls have simply closed on the day rolezinhos were scheduled to take place. Such was the case at Shopping Leblon, an upscale mall in Rio’s exclusive Leblon neighborhood. Roughly 8,000 people had confirmed attendance on Facebook the day before the event was supposed to take place on January 19. The description of the Shopping Leblon rolezinho read: “We support the people in Sao Paulo, against all forms of repression and discrimination against the poor and those of African descent, and especially against the brutal and cowardly actions of the police, be it in the malls, the beaches, or the periphery.” The event’s political manifesto sounded a far cry from the Facebook descriptions of rolezinhos past, which rallied rolezeiros to “go up the down escalator,” and “press all the elevator buttons.”

When the crowd arrived at Shopping Leblon to find the doors locked, they turned on the Funk, and lit up the grill to make the typical ‘churrasquinho de gato (cat barbecue – alluding to the poor quality of the meat being cooked). These two things are, in way, symbols of the lower and lower-middle classes, and for just one day, they dominated an area that boasts the most expensive real estate in Latin America. In a way, the defining political goal of the rolezinho was finally realized, despite the locked mall doors: congregating and re-enforcing their identity in a space usually exclusive to the wealthy.

In general, malls have been successful in acquiring court orders that prohibit the gatherings, citing overcapacity and fire hazards as reasons for doing so. Regardless, social media is still buzzing, and additional events are planned daily. Some rolezeiros are attempting to reconcile the legitimacy of these courts orders while still attempting to leverage the growing online buzz, negotiating with mall authorities and proposing the idea of permitting limited rolezinho presence in malls, while the majority of those attending would congregate in open areas outside. From the perspective of the gatherings’ organizers, the location of the mall symbolizes a space normally exclusive to the well off. A portion of those attending must occupy the space inside the mall, or the significance of the event is, in a way, lost. Other groups have tried to appropriate the rolezinhos as their own, taking advantage of their newfound popularity. Anti-racist groups and the ‘Blac Bloc’ (a group of protestors prone to vandalism that became protagonist in the wave of mobilization that dominated Brazil last June) have called for their own ‘pseudo-rolezinhos.’

Today, rolezinhos continue to split the Brazilian people along class, racial and political lines. Brazil’s political left says the rolezeiros are fighting the pseudo-apartheid that is endemic to Brazil; the right believes rolezinhos are excuses for theft, vandalism and public disorder. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Many rolezeiros attend the gatherings for political reasons, some just want to have fun, and others, a small minority, are there to take advantage of the situation and create disorder. If anything, rolezinhos are generating debate over veiled structural racism and social exclusion in Brazil – a debate that is ever-present in Brazilian culture but that has never had a movement to truly exemplify its importance, until now.